Friday, October 30, 2009

Cranes Are Here!

The Sandhill cranes have arrived.

Every year, almost like clockwork, we are rewarded for our hard work by 20 or so Sandhill Cranes. These strange and beautiful creatures make a home of our yard for the winter. They fly off to the river or nearby fields when we arrive and come back to roost for the night amongst our piles.

Come on down to see 'em.

Recent Temperature Changes

We have seen a recent drop in temperatures across the state. Yesterday, we had blinding snow(I couldn't see the red barn in the next lot). The day before it was freezing rain. Not much happening here lately so I figure this is a good topic to address. Invariably I get asked whether the weather extremes impact our composting processes.

So today, while taking weekly temperatures, I decided to photograph the results.

This morning it was right around 18F when we pulled in. (My coffee actually cooled before I could finish it.) Needless to say, I didn't get out and document that temp.
[One of the employees here is a Vermonter. I would expect him to be in his element now what with the cold. But he is as cold as the rest of us. We got to talking about that and figure that it is just because we aren't used to the briskness of it all yet. By January, we'll all be so used to weather like today's that we should go swimming (more on that later)].

Here is the thermometer at 10am.

This next picture is taken immediately after I stuck the thermometer into the pile. It is on the north side of the pile, still in the shade. Look closely to see some frost still.

This is taken in a different portion of the pile, about 5 mins. later.

The reason that the internal temperature is unaffected by the elements is very simple. The heat generated from the compost pile is not environmental; rather it is caused by the cellular break down of the organics by microorganisms. One of the results is the release of energy in the form of heat. The trapped heat produces an environment attractive to the micro organisms, which allows them to reproduce, and so on. Our piles here at the site are large enough to trap that heat. In a smaller back yard compost pile, the heat may be generated but it is not retained and the pile goes dormant.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cold Frame--Week 3

I have been very busy the last couple of weeks. It seems I've been out of the office spreading the gospel of compost almost as much as I've been in it. Earlier this week, I was in Santa Fe for three days to bring my facility certification back up to date. I haven't been around to tend to the cold frame I made a couple of weeks ago. As the night time temperatures drop, frost becomes hazardous to many plants. I was worried whether they would survive. I needn't have.

(This shows a min/max thermometer. Coldest temperatures for the night are shown on the left.Looks like it dropped to 28F last night.)

After three weeks, our little cold frame is still going strong.

The radishes on the left have really flourished, but it might be too cold for them to set. We'll see. The chard on the right is not going to have any problems; it's far enough along. The cabbage in the middle is still small but it too, should be alright.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Harvesting Vermicompost

I usually clean out my worm bins a couple of times a year. The goal is to remove the worm castings and to replenish the organic content of the bin so that it can spend the winter regenerating more worms without being disturbed. Then in the spring when there is a rush on worms at the compost site, this bin will be ready. In the spring, I will screen another bin as a back up. This way I pertually have a bin full of worms to harvest.

It is fairly easy to determine which bin to screen. When the contents of the bin are homoginously dark black and virtually devoid of worms, it is time to harvest. The vermicompost is the waste from the worms, their excrement. As with most creatures, their own excrement is toxic to them. When the bin contains more of their waste then of food, they either move on or die.

Shovel the material into a screen. I vacillate between screening and not screening. I suppose it depends on the application. Screening allows for a finer material, so if you are going to topdress houseplants or a lawn, then I would screen it. If there are lots of undigested particles, if the material has trash in it, then I would screen it. If it's just going into the garden as a soil amendment or if it is already exceptionally fine, then screening is not necessary.

If it is going to be screened, you will need to build a screen. Obviously the size of the mesh determines the size of the finished product. I usually use 1/2" hardware cloth available at all hardware stores. Chicken wire works fine, too; whatever's available. A couple of 2 x 4's and some staples are all you need to finish the construction of the screen.

After you've screened it, you'll be left with two products: what we in the biz call overs and unders.

The unders (that which falls through the screen) is what you are after. I make a quick check to see if any worms fell through and toss any I find back into the bin. The unders are ready to use now in whatever fashion you deem fit.

The overs are then picked through for any trash, rocks, or worms...

and put back into the bin for further composting.

Then I fill the bin back up with readily available organic material, in this case, horse manure. (At home, I don't fill the bin up immmediately. Rather I fill it as kitchen and yard waste become available.)

I water the material and clean it up all nice and pretty. It should be teeming with worms in a month or so.


"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."

My political views are my own. I try to welcome thoughtful opinions regardless of origin. I feel this statement, however, offers so much to us as a country. We have a reason to be proud again.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cold Frame Construction- one week later

Here are the radish seeds sprouting.

If you look closely, the chard seeds are starting to show as well.

I am still waiting for the cabbage. Stay tuned.